Blair resident was in China as illness spread

Blair resident Sue Gerdes said she expected to see a lot more people out and about when she left San Diego on a series of flights headed to Macau for Chinese New Year.

"We were told that since Chinese New Year is such a big deal, everybody comes home for it," Gerdes said. "It wasn't. People weren't there, they weren't traveling."

Gerdes traveled to Macau — an autonomous region on the south coast of China across a river delta from Hong Kong — with her son, grandson and daughter-in-law for the holiday. Gerdes said her daughter-in-law's family is from Macau, so they went to celebrate the holiday with her family.

But the two weeks Gerdes spent in Macau, from leaving San Diego on Jan. 19 to her return to the city Feb. 1, was around the time that the Novel Coronavirus began spreading, prompting action by various entities around the world, including Three Rivers Public Health Department that covers Dodge, Saunders and Washington counties.

"A lot of things were cancelled. People didn't want to get out of their houses, so we went out to eat by ourselves," Gerdes said. "Everywhere we went, whether it was a casino, hotel, restaurant, they'd take your temperature as you walked in the door."

She said she saw additional precautions being taken during her time there, such as more people wearing masks and checks at airports on her way back to the U.S.

"You could tell day by day when we got there to when we left, how many more were wearing masks. The last three or four days, we wore masks," Gerdes said. "I think we had to show our passports 11 times on the way home. Five times on the way there, but by the time the two weeks that we were there, it was more."

Gerdes said that she still had fun sight-seeing and that she is not expected to have the virus.

"It was fun over there and all that," she said. "I'm glad (my daughter-in-law's) family was not from mainland China."

The virus is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the Hubei province on mainland China.

On Thursday, Three Rivers announced in a press release that the health department is working closely with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to closely monitor the virus called 2019-nCOV. Three Rivers encourages people who have returned from mainland China to self-isolate, practice social distancing and be actively monitored for the onset of symptoms.

Officials also stated that the health department is being proactive with precautions and is monitoring the situation through enhanced disease surveillance and through working with area healthcare providers.

The Douglas County Health Department has opened a Novel Coronavirus information line to answer community questions, which includes responding to questions about Americans who are staying at Camp Ashland. The information line will include representatives from some federal agencies. Operators will be able to answer a wide range of questions, a press release said. The number for the line is 402-444-3400.

"Part of our responsibility as your local public health department is to provide you with the information you need to make good decisions," DCHD Director Dr. Adi Pour said. "We are excited to be partnering with our friends from the Three Rivers Health Department and the Sarpy/Cass Health Department."

On Friday, a plane carrying Americans from China arrived in Omaha. The Americans on the plane will be monitored for 14 days at Camp Ashland, an Army National Guard Camp.

The CDC lists symptoms of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. The virus is likely spread through respiratory droplets, the CDC said, but it was unclear as of Friday whether a person can get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it.

"Since it is cold and flu season, you may experience similar symptoms to the Coronavirus," said Terra Uhing, executive director for Three Rivers. "Unless you have traveled to the affected areas in the world, or have been in close contact to someone exposed there is little concern for exposure to 2019-nCOV."

Twelve people in the U.S. tested positive for the virus as of Friday and 337 total people had been screened in 36 states and territories. Anyone in the Three Rivers service area who may have returned from mainland China is encouraged to call 402-727-5396 or 866-727-5396 for guidance on next steps.

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